Are we passive or active readers?

As autumn arrives, and children get back to school, so I prepare to return to my day job.  In case you haven’t realised, I tutor classes for adults, leading reading and writing groups.

Are writing sessions self-explanatory?  I never take it for granted, but I thought so, until someone arrived at Creative Writing expecting to be taught calligraphy. She was very nice, and we shared a smile about it, but since then I’ve been even more careful when creating course titles.

The question of what happens in one of my reading groups is trickiest to put across, I’ve usually only a title and a ‘strapline’ of thirty or forty words to get it right.  Despite that word reading, what we mostly do is talk about what we’ve already read, according to a schedule that I’ve set.  Aren’t my homework tasks the best?

pixabay woman readingI think of my reading sessions as following two main themes.  First, there are the hard-hitters: the short stories. These are the pieces of writing you should never underestimate.  At their best, they can turn your ideas upside down or inside out in a handful of pages.

For this term, that will be crime fiction, starting from the 1930s.  We’ll be reading through the twentieth century, taking in some of the top writers from Britain and America.

My heavy hitter, this autumn, is Elizabeth Gaskell’s, North and South.  Why do I describe it in that way?  Well not just because this is a great novel, it also has a little to do with the fact that my paperback copy weighs a hefty 12 ounces (that’s 496 pages) and in the hands of a trained killer might turn into a handy weapon.  There, you see, it’s not for nothing that I lead imaginative writing sessions.

The principle I follow has been summed up neatly by Francine Prose, in her book, Reading Like a Writer.  She describes the advantages of exploring books and stories that challenge us:

…I’ve always found that the better the book I’m reading, the smarter I feel, or, at least, the more able I am to imagine that I might, someday become smarter.

It works for readers and writers alike.